Musical Quote of the Week
Presented by David Barker
Genius of Mozart is mourning and weeping over the death
of her pupil. She has found a refuge but no occupation
with the inexhaustible Haydn; through him she wishes to
form a union with another. With the help of assiduous
labor you shall receive Mozart's spirit from Haydn's hands.
Ferdinand von Waldstein in a letter to Beethoven (1792)
quotes (most recent first)
This is a legitimate and valid way of looking at things,
I suppose. But it is certainly painful to listen to.
Sibelius's response to hearing Schoenberg's Chamber Symphony,
What the world needs is more geniuses with
humility, there are so few of us left.
Another witticism from Oskar Levant.
Whereas most other modern composers are engaged in manufacturing
cocktails of every hue and description, I offer the public pure
Jean Sibelius, 1923, after writing his Sixth Symphony.
The difference between a violin
and a viola is that a viola burns longer.
is an imaginary instrument that might be said to
possess the wings of the harp, the heart of the
grand piano and the soul of the guitar.
Joaquin Rodrigo, referring to the rhythm underlying Spanish music.
can make the simple complicated.
Creativity is making
the complicated simple.
Attributed to Charles Mingus, jazz musician.
the two men, somewhere, a truth is lying,
is what I try to find.
Sir Georg Solti, referring to Toscanini and Furtwängler.
feel I shall live a long time.
Pyotr Tchaikovsky to his brother, after composing the Pathetique Symphony
(see last week's quote for contrast).
What I need is to believe in
myself again - for my faith has been greatly undermined; it seems
to me my role is over.
Pyotr Tchaikovsky in a letter to his nephew, just prior to composing
the Pathetique Symphony, and eight months before his
colour of my soul is iron-grey and sad bats wheel about
the steeple of my dreams.
Claude Debussy in a 1894
letter to Ernest Chausson
God, I'll never have to play the cello again.
Pablo Casals, aged 24, after hurting his hand in a hiking accident.
Simplicity is the final achievement.
After one has played a vast quantity of notes and more notes,
it is simplicity that emerges as the crowning reward of art.
a general. My soldiers are the keys,
and I have to
Attributed to Vladimir Horowitz.
can't possibly hear the last movement
Seventh and go slow.
Oscar Levant, American pianist and comedian, explaining his way out of a speeding
ask for advice but never take it.
cannot despair about mankind
knowing that Mozart was
The important thing is never to let oneself
be guided by
the opinion of one's contemporaries; to continue steadfastly
on one's way without letting oneself be either defeated
by failure or diverted by applause.
For sheer strength of character, I wouldn't have dared to cross
swords with Callas. I would rather have gone six rounds with
John Huston, when asked if he had ever met any woman who was
conducting it because Mr. Gould is so valid and serious
an artist, that I must take seriously anything he conceives
in good faith, and his conception is interesting enough
that I feel you should hear it, too.
introducing Glenn Gould and the infamous
Brahms Concerto No. 1 from Carnegie
Hall in 1962
that's what your jokes sound like, I'm afraid to hear
what your serious pieces sound like.
Robert Schumann in a letter to Chopin after hearing his Scherzo No. 2
until the evening before opening night.
inspiration more than necessity.
Gioachino Rossini's advice about writing
mere mention of Christmas inspired him
[Vaughan Williams]. He had
a passion for carols.
Simona Pakenham, collaborator with VW for The First Nowell.
trouble with music appreciation in general is that
people are taught to have too much respect for music;
should be taught to love it instead.
never look at the trombones - it only encourages them.
and a glass of wine invite an encore.
A painter paints his pictures
on canvas. But musicians paint their pictures on silence.
We provide the music, and you provide the silence.
Leopold Stokowski to a "difficult" audience.
What a lovely voice, but who cares?
Maria Callas, referring to Renata Tebaldi.
was for some time quite beside myself and could not
believe that Providence could have required the presence
of this indispensable man in the other world so soon.
Haydn, referring to the death of Mozart.
is so difficult to mix with artists! You must choose
business men to talk to, because artists only talk
He was a mad conductor: he
looks like he’ll take off and fly at any moment, and
his facial expressions are a treat.
Maggie Cotton, former principal percussionist for the CBSO,
commenting on Malcolm Arnold's conducting style (at the Hoffnung
Music is the social act of communication
among people, a gesture of friendship, the strongest there
Sir Malcolm Arnold
music of Bach is without doubt
the most sacred gift to
the world of art.
I found it as alluring as a wayward woman
to tame it.
Beecham on the music of Delius.
My dear hands. Farewell, my poor hands.
Sergei Rachmaninov, 1943, in his last illness having been
told he would never play again.
violin can sing a melody better than the piano,
melody is the soul of music.
Max Bruch, when asked why he, as a pianist, preferred to
write music for the violin.
Thus having been undeservedly
accepted at the Conservatory
as a professor, I soon became one of its best and
possibly its very best pupil, judging by the quantity and value
of the information it gave me!
In poetry there are two giants, rough Homer and fine Shakespeare.
In music likewise we have two giants, Beethoven, the
thinker, and the superthinker Berlioz.
Modest Mussorgsky, 1872 letter to Vladimir Stassov.
Truly, in Schubert there dwells
a divine spark!
Beethoven, speaking to Anton Schindler.
Can you appreciate music without
playing it? Yes, you can. You can appreciate baseball without
Many people attend a football game merely for the
crowd, the excitement, the color.
Attributed to Jascha Heifetz.
gives Bach and Mozart a place apart is that these two
great expressive composers never sacrificed form to
Camille Saint-Saëns, 1907.
Händel is the greatest and ablest of all composers;
from him I can still learn.
Beethoven on his deathbed, speaking to Gerhard von Breuning
I deny that either singers or conductors can create or
work creatively – this, as I have always said,
is a conception that leads to the abyss.
Giuseppe Verdi, 1871.
is the final achievement. After one has played a vast
quantity of notes and more notes, it is simplicity
that emerges as the crowning reward of art.
Paris, you learn wit, in London you learn to crush
your social rivals, and in Florence you learn poise.
Attributed to Virgil Thomson, American composer and critic.
is our life but a series of preludes to that unknown
song of which death sounds the first solemn note?
Franz Liszt, preface to Les Préludes
The hero in carpet slippers.
Edward Sackville-West, commenting on Richard
Strauss' Symphonia Domestica
The audience is requested
not to refrain from
during the overture. Otherwise they will know
all the tunes
before the opera begins.
Ralph Vaughan Williams - note in the score to The Poisoned Kiss (1936).
Elgar is not manic enough to be Russian, not witty or pointilliste
enough to be French, not harmonically simple enough
to be Italian and not stodgy enough to be German.
arrive at his Englishry by pure elimination.
Anthony Burgess, The Observer, 1983.
My music is best understood by children and animals.
Igor Stravinsky, The Observer, 1961
A great piece of music is beautiful,
regardless of how
it is performed.
Dmitri Shostakovich in a letter to Isaac Glikman, 1955.
To achieve great things, two things are needed:
and not quite enough time.
Inspiration is a guest that does not willingly visit the
As you’ll never hear the thing again, my boy, why not
throw in a couple of brass bands?
Sir Thomas Beecham providing some advice to William Walton
on the composition of Belshazzar's Feast for the 1931
Leeds Festival, advice which he dutifully accepted.
As I left the State Opera last night I had a sensation
not of coming out of a public institution, but out
of an insane asylum.
1925 review of a performance of Berg's Wozzeck.
always try to make myself as widely understood as possible,
and if I don't succeed I consider it's my own fault.
Dmitri Shostakovich, New York Times, 1942.
The Americans expect great things of me ... If the small
Czech nation can have such musicians, they say, why
could not they, too, when their country and people
is so immense.
Antonin Dvorák, in a letter to Josef Hlávka, 1892.
is the greatest and ablest of all composers;
I can still learn.
Beethoven on his deathbed, speaking to Gerhard von Breuning.
works, genius creates.
He was the adoration of many,
and re-exists now in the
Olivia Dussek Buckley (daughter of Jan Dussek), in her 1843 book Musical Truths,
referring to Beethoven (and Spohr).
What's best in music is not to
be found in the notes.
For me, the most important thing
is the element of chance that is built into a live performance.
The very great drawback of recorded sound is the fact that it
is always the same.
One of the advantages of being over forty is that one begins
to learn the difference between knowing and realising.
Gustav Holst, 1914, letter to WG Whittaker
He is the father, we are the children.
Wolfgang Mozart, speaking about CPE Bach.
My idea is that there is music in the air, music all around
us, the world is full of it and you simply take as
much as you require.
Edward Elgar, 1896.
If I miss one day of practice, I notice it. If I miss
two days, the critics notice it. If I miss three days,
the audience notices it.
Ignacy Paderewski, Polish pianist and politician.
With the help of assiduous labour you shall receive Mozart's
spirit from Haydn's hands.
Ferdinand von Waldstein in a latter to Beethoven, 1792.
There are three kinds of pianists: Jewish pianists, homosexual
pianists, and bad pianists.
Vladimir Horowitz (in less politically correct days)
No, but I once trod in some.
Sir Thomas Beecham, when asked whether he had conducted any Stockhausen.
may well be that some composers do not believe in God.
All of them, however, believe in Bach.
I want to seize fate by the throat.
Ludwig van Beethoven, 1801 letter to FG Wegeler
She was a town-and-country soprano of the kind often used
for augmenting grief at a funeral.
George Ade, American dramatist and wit.
I lived in Italy for three years and wanted no part of
the country's disreputable way of life.
You can chase a Beethoven symphony
all your life and never catch up.
Mahler burst over the Vienna
Opera like an elemental catastrophe.
Franz Schmidt, composer and cellist in the Vienna Opera
A Haydn symphony had a meaning
for the social group that listened to it. A Mahler symphony had
a meaning for the man who composed it. Here is the difference
between the classical and romantic attitudes to art.
Anthony Burgess, English novelist and composer,
from This Man and Music, 1983.
Berlioz says nothing in his music, but he says it magnificently.
Huneker, American music critic of the early 20th century.
It is music in which all the notes must be heard.
Camille Saint-Saëns - as reported by Faure - talking
about the works of Mozart.
I have written
out my soul in the concerto ...
Elgar, about his violin concerto, in a letter to his friend Alice
If a composer
could state in words what being a composer means, he would
no longer need to be a composer.
Ned Rorem, American composer.
A film musician
is like a mortician. He can't bring the body to life, but
he can make it look better.
Adolf Deutsch, English-American composer (1897-1980).
When a piece gets difficult, make faces.
Arthur Schnabel's advice to Vladimir Horowitz.
I occasionally play works by contemporary composers for two
reasons. Firstly to discourage the composer from writing any
more and secondly to remind myself how much I appreciate Beethoven.
Music is now so foolish that I am amazed.
Everything that is wrong is permitted, and no attention is paid
to what the old generation wrote.
Samuel Scheidt, German composer (1587-1654).
good composer is slowly discovered, the bad composer is slowly
Ernest Newman, music critic.
One can't judge Wagner's Lohengrin after a
first hearing, and I certainly don't intend hearing it a second
trying to do a more difficult thing than record folk songs;
you are trying to record life.
HG Wells on a folk song hunt with Percy Grainger, 1908.
made a fine entertainment of it, tho' not near so good
as he might and ought to have done. I have with great difficulty
made him correct some of the grossest faults.
The Reverend Charles Jennens, talking about Handel's music for
Messiah, for which Jennens was librettist, 1754.
you read? The score demands con
amore and what are you doing? You are playing it like
Arturo Toscanini to an unfortunate orchestra during rehearsal.
it when an aria fits a singer as perfectly as a suit of well-tailored
Mozart in a letter to his father, 1778.
I don't know what will become of this
piece. Our brave
critics will no doubt charge me with imitating Ravel's
Too bad - this is how I hear war.
Dmitri Shostakovich, referring to his Seventh Symphony, 1941.
The worth of my music will never be guessed
or its value
to mankind felt until the approach to it is consciously
undertaken as a pilgrimage to sorrows.
own case I have never had an original thought in my head
in the matter of musical composition, while I have flattered
myself that I am a likely lad when it comes to picking
other men's brains. Concerning my own transcriptions, there
were those which were fashioned out of envy, so to speak.
is enough for a lifetime -
but a lifetime is not enough for music.
The chief objection to wind instruments
extends the life of the player.
Who else but George Bernard Shaw.
You sang like a composer.
Jules Massenet, to a tenor he obviously didn't think much of.
I should be sorry, my Lord, if I had only
in entertaining them; I wished to make them better.
Handel, to Lord Kinnoull, after the London premiere of Messiah, 1743.
It cannot remain unmentioned that so many
poorly equipped boys, and boys who have no talent at all for
have been accepted into the school to date that
the quality of music has necessarily declined and deteriorated. And those who
do bring a few precepts with them when they come to school are not ready to be
Bach, from a memorandum to the Leipzig Town Council, 1730 (another case of "the
more things change, the more they stay the same"!)
really done it this time ... I wonder if you realised how
futile and tawdry Ravel sounded after your Epliogue
Holst in a letter to Vaughan Williams after the first performance
of the London Symphony, 1914.
in all things is no longer known or prized - you must write
music that is either so simple a coachman could sing it,
or so unintelligble that audiences like it simply because
no sane person could understand it.
Mozart in a letter to his father, 1782, talking about his piano
concertos K413-415 (the more things change, the more they stay
Never mind, put any book on the piano,
and someone can
turn from time to time, so I need not look as though
I played by heart.
Felix Mendelssohn on hearing that the piano part for his piano trio had not arrived
for a performance in London (1844) as related by Joseph Joachim, who was the
How do you keep ninety people together
with one stick?
I've got two sticks and I can't keep five people together.
Ian Paice, the drummer of the rock group Deep Purple, in conversation with a
conductor (unnamed) during rehearsals for a performance of Jon Lord's Concerto
for Group and Orchestra.
Brahms stayed an extra day to hear my
[Fifth] Symphony and was very kind ... I like his honesty
and open-mindedness. Neither
he nor the players liked the finale, which I also think rather
Tchaikovsky in a letter to his brother, describing what is now
one of the favourite pieces of the standard repertoire, Hamburg
Before he got far, I was convinced he
was raving mad.
Pierre Monteux, speaking about Stravinsky at a piano performance
by the composer of The Rite of Spring for the conductor
and Diaghilev before its Paris premiere, 1912.
Last year I gave several lectures on "Intelligence
and Musicality among Animals" ... Today I am going
to speak to you about "Intelligence and Musicality
among Critics" ...
The subject is much the same, with some modifications, of course.
Erik Satie, 1918, in ascerbic mood.
say, compar'd to Bononcini
That Mynheer Handel's but a Ninny
Others aver, that he to Handel
Is scarcely fit to hold a Candle
Strange all this Difference should be
'Twixt Tweedle-dum and Tweedle-dee!
English poet John Byrom,
describing the "contest" between
Handel and his operatic rival Bononcini, 1723.
What terrible harm Wagner did by interspersing
his pages of genius with harmonic and modulatory outrages
to which both young and old are gradually becoming accustomed
and which have procreated d'Indy and
Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, 1901.
too had to work hard, so as not to have to work hard any
Mozart in reply to the Dutch keyboardist Georg Friedrich
Richter, who had said after watching Mozart play the
keyboard "How hard I work and sweat, and to you,
my friend, it is all child's play". Vienna 1784.
Magnificent ... you can't even hear the original
quartet, so beautiful is the arrangement.
Otto Klemperer, speaking about Schoenberg's orchestration
of the Brahms piano quartet, of which he was the conductor of
the first performance in 1938
That which cannot be said these days will be
From the Wiener Realzeitung review of the premiere
Marriage of Figaro in Vienna, referring of course
to the ban on the performance of the play (Vienna, 1786).
I am coarse, and you are simple.
in a letter to Mendelssohn,
accompanying the gift of Berlioz's baton, described as a cudgel